Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery

In its elegant, quiet way, this may be the most visually compelling book I’ve come across this season. Displaying artistic treasures housed in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, it presents natural history drawings and watercolors by Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Marshall (1620-82), Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), and Mark Catesby (1683-1749), as well as illustrations from the encyclopedic “Paper Museum” created by Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657), a remarkable figure in the closing decades of the Italian Renaissance.

The 160 color illustrations depict with exquisite artistry an array of exotic plants and animals brought to Europe’s attention as a result of 15th- and 16th-century voyages of exploration. Renowned naturalist David Attenborough and expert colleagues contribute a series of engaging essays that illuminate the history of our urge to depict the natural world and the particular perspectives and achievements of the artists mentioned above. –